“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’
The holidays are full of stories about believing in magic and having seemingly impossible dreams come true. It’s part of what makes this time of year so special. I don’t need a special holiday to remind me to believe in magic. It’s something that’s just always been a part of who I am. Here’s the origin story of my life-long search for, and belief in, magic.
~ ~ ~
They had dressed me in a light green dress, the color of grasshopper wings, and a starched crinoline slip that made my dress protrude outward like an opened umbrella. Past experience, even at age five, told me it would be itchy and scratchy for the rest of the day. My white anklet socks and shiny black patent leather shoes felt unnatural as I walked across the soft grass.
The boys next door, George and Marco, were playing stickball, so I drifted into their backyard and sat on a cardboard box to watch their game. I thought it would protect my dress from getting dirty. I was quite pleased with myself until George started yelling at me.
“Get off second base, you knucklehead,” he shouted, as he stalked over to me. “Can’t you see you’re in the middle of our baseball field?” Marco joined him, striking a posture that made him look like a puffed-up blowfish.
I got up quickly, embarrassed that I hadn’t recognized the cardboard for second base. “I just wanted to watch your game. It’s too hot to stand, so I thought I’d sit.”
George paused, looking sideways at his brother. “I’m sure you’d like to get cooled down, wouldn’t you?” he asked, suddenly quite kind. “Before you go to wherever you’re going in that fancy-dancy dress.” I nodded, wondering for a brief moment why he was being so nice but grateful he wasn’t yelling any more.
“Well,” George continued, as he walked me over to the side of their house, “We have a rain trough full of water.” He dipped his hand into the water, sighing dramatically at the relief it brought from the heat. “We don’t tell this to everyone . . . but the day is awfully warm . . .” He continued in a whisper. “If you climb into this water, you will get cool but you won’t get wet. Not a drop. Because it’s magic water.”
I looked at the long trough full of clear water. I felt honored the older kids would tell me their secret. I knew there was magic in the world because all the fairy tales my parents read to me said so. And the elves always took the presents I hid in the nook of the old oak tree in the woods behind my house. They often left gifts for me in return, like my favorite troll doll with the pink hair that showed up on my birthday. I knew fireflies were really fairies in disguise and the reason we couldn’t see the troll under the bridge in the park was because he was shy. I knew I had to believe in magic because it’s what my friend Susie, who had something the adults called cystic fibrosis, needed to get better.
I looked at the boys and then back at the water. It was so hot! It wouldn’t take very long; I’d be in and out in a jiffy.
“Okay,” I said, as the boys moved aside. Slowly, I put one leg over the side and then the other, lowering myself into the water, feeling cool and itch-free for the first time all day. The crinoline slip floated up to my armpits, like gossamer wings for a fairy princess. My socks and shoes felt heavy. I was submerged to my chin and thoroughly soaked, but as promised, I was no longer hot.
The boys were laughing so hard they could hardly stand up. “Oh boy,” George sneered. “That dress looks like boiled cabbage.”
At this point, our neighbor Alice, who must have been watching from her kitchen window, came storming out of her house, yelling like a banshee, followed by her German Shepherd, Butch. George and Marco ran into the back woods, knowing they were going to get into big trouble.
I was still in the trough, thinking a few things. First, I was much cooler, so the boys had been right about that. Second, I was much wetter, so the boys were wrong about that. Third, I might be in trouble with my parents.
Alice arrived to help me climb out of the trough. My dress suctioned itself out of the water with a sickly sounding pop, my water-logged shoes completely ruined. Butch brushed up against me as if his fur could be a makeshift towel to help me dry off.
I don’t remember much after that. I assume my parents were upset and that I attended the birthday party in a different dress. I vaguely recall them wanting me to learn a new word: gullible. They said I should try very hard not to be that again.
What I do remember, very clearly, is lying in bed that night, watching the fireflies dance outside my window and thinking, “That’s okay. It just wasn’t the right trough of water. I’ll just have to keep looking for the right one . . . the one that holds magic.”